A VISIT to the Holy Land by President Trump later this month could lead to a “surprising” result in kick-starting the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the Archbishop of Canterbury said in a meeting with the Israeli President, Reuven Rivlin, on Tuesday.
Last week, Archbishop Welby visited the two Anglican hospitals in Gaza, and on Monday he visited Christian communities in the West Bank towns of Bethlehem and Beit Jala, whose lives had been affected by the separation wall.
The Archbishop told President Rivlin that his meetings with Christians in Gaza and the West Bank had been “extraordinarily important” experiences and “moments of great concern”.
Speaking of Gaza, the Archbishop said: “You have the sense of the Christian community deeply committed to the common good — these hospitals serving the people regardless of who they are, seeking to bring healing and health and hope. And yet the Christian community [is] diminishing year on year at an extraordinary rate as it is caught in this conflict.”
Archbishop Welby also spoke of wider concerns in the region, including the plight of Christian refugees from Syria and Iraq who were finding sanctuary in Jordan.
He told the President that the refugees’ stories referred to “a culture that has welcomed the Church for the past 2000 years, which has suddenly become completely incapable of welcoming the Church; which leads them to think that even if there were peace, by some wonderful gift of God, they could not return, because so much has changed.
“Their families have scattered to the four winds; their hopes, their ambitions destroyed. It was a sorrowful meeting.”Lambeth PalaceVisitor: the Archbishop meets the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, on Tuesday
In his West Bank meetings on Monday, the Archbishop met Sheila Abu Sa’ad, a 67-year-old woman who lived 20 metres from her family’s olive grove, but who had a 40-minute trip to reach it because the Israeli separation wall, built as a security measure after the Second Intifada, meant that she was cut off from her land.
An agricultural gate connecting the street to the olive grove — one of a number installed in the wall after a ruling by the Israeli Supreme Court — had never been opened, except to allow Israeli troops to pass, she said.
She wept as she told the Archbishop that the family’s bee population, which they kept in the olive grove, had been killed by tear gas during clashes between Palestinians and Israelis.
In Archbishop Welby’s meetings with political leaders in the region — he also met the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu; the President of the Palestinian National Authority, Mahmoud Abbas; and the President of the Israeli Supreme Court, Miriam Naor — he emphasised that he was not seeking to tell the governments what to do (News, 5 May).
Later, he said that he was aware of the “complexity” of the situation, which meant that “outsiders should be very careful about what they say. We don’t come here to lecture, lay down the law, tell people what to do. That is just daft.”
He said, however, that he was able to raise the subject of “the pressure on Christian communities, which is not only from direct pressure and persecution of the most horrific kind, that we heard about listening to Iraqi Christian refugees; or even the appalling treatment of all refugees in the area — not just the Christians but also the Muslims that we heard about in Zaatari refugee camp.
“Also the pressure that comes from living in a minority community in really serious conflict areas; or even in areas that aren’t in hot conflict, but in areas where the conflict — the sense of insecurity — leads to people being driven out over time, quietly; not by a great exodus, but quietly, through economic and insecurity pressure, and I am thinking about Beit Jala there.”
On Wednesday, Archbishop Welby returned to the West Bank, and met leaders of the Susiya Village Council, a Bedouin community outside Hebron, whose buildings had been demolished seven times by the Israeli authorities. Their current buildings are also subject to a demolition order.
A village spokesman, Nasser al-Nawaja’a, told the Archbishop that heavy Israeli machinery had been seen outside a village near by, early that morning, and the community feared that they would face demolition later that day.PAHoly site: Archbishop Welby visits the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem’s Old City, with the director of al-Aqsa Mosque, Sheikh Omar al-Kiswani
He explained that power cables crossed their land to provide electricity to Israeli settlements; but they were not able to draw on it. Water was shipped in to the community in tankers, but they had to pay 35 shekels per cubic metre, whereas water to the settlements was charged at five shekels per cubic metre. “For your own water?” the Archbishop exclaimed.
Mr al-Nawaja’a insisted that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was not a religious war. “In Palestine we existed together as villagers; we existed together as religions: Jewish, Christians, Muslims. And we don’t differentiate.”
Archbishop Welby promised to speak out for the community. “Being able to come here today puts into our hearts, and not just into our heads, the truth of your situation,” he said. “What we knew from reading, we now know in our emotions, which means that when we are back in England, when we are speaking publicly . . . we can speak as personal witnesses, not just on the basis of having heard a report.
“We can’t change the law. We can’t change the situation. But we can speak; we can continue to pray for you, and we can ensure that people are aware of your situation.”
On Wednesday, the penultimate day of his 12-day visit to the region, the Archbishop was touring the divided city of Hebron.